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Post-WWII — Singh Family

The relaxation of immigration laws in 1965 opened the way for more Asians to immigrate to the United States. Soon afterwards, South Asian Indians began to arrive in McLean County. Immigration peaked in the 1990s as State Farm Insurance recruited skilled workers in Information Technology. Since 1980 South Asian Indians have been the largest immigrant group in McLean County.

Balwant Singh came to the United States from India in 1967 with only the equivalent of a high school diploma. Like Balwant, most early immigrants from India came to the U.S. for employment and a better life. Also like other South Asian Indian immigrants, Balwant did not believe that he would stay in the U.S.

I had a little better opportunity to make a living in this country than back in India... It was simply for survival.
— Balwant
Black and white photo of Balwant Singh, with a faint mustasche, black hair, and wearing a light-colored collared shirt and scarf.

Balwant Singh

Black and white photo of Balwant Singh, with a faint mustasche, black hair, and wearing a light-colored collared shirt and scarf.

To get an entry visa into the U.S., Balwant first needed a job, a scholarship, or a sponsor.

With few opportunities available to him in India, Balwant’s brother, who was here on an education scholarship, helped him land a job at the Honegger poultry farm in Forrest, Illinois. He worked there for several years before becoming a phone technician (installer) for General Telephone Electric (GTE).

Lineman’s testing telephone, circa 1975

Photo of an orange-colored testing telephone that Balwant used in his work as a lineman.
As a GTE technician, Balwant used a lineman’s phone, like this one. The work often involved climbing telephone poles to test phone lines to see if they worked properly.

Donated by: Marilyn Hargsheimer
2014.49

Photo of an orange-colored testing telephone that Balwant used in his work as a lineman.

Because Balwant did not believe that he would stay in the United States, he arrived with very little.

Balwant left India with just eight dollars.

In the 1960s and 70s, Indian citizens could only take $10 of U.S. currency out of the country as Indian banks had limited U.S. currency available. That’s equal to about $70 in the year 2014. Could you survive with that amount?

Balwant brought with him only a small suitcase and his most valued possession, the Gita — a sacred scripture given to him by his father.

Bhagavad Gita, circa 1960

Writing in Hindi is shown next to an image depicting a man in an intricate, horse-drawn carriage, speaking to the driver amidst flags and an army in front of him.
The Bhagavad Gita is a Hindu text intended to impart wisdom and guide the individual down the path of devotion in order to achieve moksha (oneness with the Hindu god Brahman).

Donated by: Balwant Singh

Writing in Hindi is shown next to an image depicting a man in an intricate, horse-drawn carriage, speaking to the driver amidst flags and an army in front of him.

Balwant and Kumud embraced American culture. But like others of Indian descent in McLean County, they also continued traditional cultural practices.

When Balwant and Kumud married, it was a traditional arranged marriage with a Hindu ceremony. When their daughter Vijiya was married, it was not an arranged marriage. But Vijiya did choose to have a traditional Hindu ceremony.

Vijiya Singh and Vipool Rathod were married in a traditional Indian ceremony on May 27, 2000 at the Bloomington Consistory (the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts).

Traditional Indian wedding garment, circa 2000

A picture of a couple standing together wearing traditional Indian clothing. The woman has a dress in red and the man is in white with a red head scarf.
Vijiya Singh Rathod wore this traditional Indian garment for her wedding. It included a lehenga (long skirt), choli (tight blouse), and odhani (wrap).

Donated by: Balwant and Kumud Singh
2014.84

A picture of a couple standing together wearing traditional Indian clothing. The woman has a dress in red and the man is in white with a red head scarf.

Despite their native land being halfway around the world, the Singhs and others from India stayed connected with their religious roots. 

A Ganesh statue was placed at the entrance of their home.

Brass Ganesh statue, circa 1980

A brass statue of an elephant with human legs, standing on one foot, arms out to the side with elbows bent.

View this object in Matterport

Ganesh is revered as the remover of obstacles and more generally as Lord of Beginnings. His presence at the entrance of a Hindu home is a sign of welcome.

Donated by: Balwant and Kumud Singh
2014.83

A brass statue of an elephant with human legs, standing on one foot, arms out to the side with elbows bent.

Balwant and Kumud used their home alter for daily prayers. During prayers, candles are lit, incense is burned, and puja (offerings) of food, drink, and everyday objects, such as flowers, cloth, or other items, are made in the hope of receiving a blessing.

Home altar for prayers featuring brass objects, inscents, and figurines of dieties.

Home altar.

Home altar for prayers featuring brass objects, inscents, and figurines of dieties.

When the Singhs first arrived in Bloomington, they could not get the ingredients needed to prepare a typical Indian meal.

There were not that many Indian families...Whoever used to go to Chicago, we used to give them the list [for groceries] — so all didn’t have to go. One of us could make a trip and get for everybody else.

Singh Family Flip Book

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